Media Beat, Oct. 27, 1993
By Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon

Haiti: Coverage Leaves Out Vital History

These days [autumn 1993] Americans are seeing a lot of news coverage about Haiti. But instead of candid history, we've been getting journalistic myths. Plenty of them.

THE U.S. GOVERNMENT AS INNOCENT DO-GOODER "Washington has a long and troubled history with Port-au-Prince," Newsweek reported in its Oct. 25 [1993] issue. The magazine recalled the 19-year occupation of Haiti by U.S. Marines that ended in 1934 -- but, like other news outlets, skimmed over more recent history.

While informing readers that Francois ("Papa Doc") Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc") went on to "tyrannize Haiti for 30 years," Newsweek didn't get around to mentioning the U.S. government's support for their bloodthirsty dictatorship.

Nor did Newsweek mention that the Reagan administration was hailing the dictatorship as late as 1985 -- when a Washington Post headline read: "U.S. Praises Duvalier for Democratic Commitment." Actually, the Duvaliers showed commitment to U.S. business interests, not democracy.

During the Duvalier family reign, an estimated 30,000 people were killed -- with many more tortured or terrorized.

After Baby Doc was driven into exile in 1986, the U.S. still tried to have its way inside Haiti. In the country's first free presidential elections, in December 1990, the Bush White House threw its support behind a rich ex-official of the World Bank. The U.S.-backed candidate received 13 percent of the vote; activist priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide won in a landslide with 67 percent.

THE OBSTINATE ARISTIDE President Aristide was scheduled to return to Haiti on Oct. 30 [1993] -- under an agreement shaped by the U.S. and the United Nations. The Clinton administration spent months pressuring Aristide to make dangerous concessions to the military thugs who organized the September 1991 coup against his elected government.

Last June, near the end of negotiations for what became "the Governors Island Accord," news reports depicted Aristide as unduly reluctant to sign the pact -- which allows coup leaders to stay in the army.

ARISTIDE THE NUT Widely reported in recent weeks by journalists who've never seen the document, a CIA "psychological profile" (prepared during the Bush administration) portrays Aristide as mentally ill.

Clinton aides -- and others who've seen President Aristide up close in office and in exile -- dismiss the classified CIA dossier as a caricature written by analysts who despise the Haitian's leftist politics.

Yet the CIA profile is taken as gospel by some journalists. CBS-TV correspondent David Martin began his Oct. 13 report this way: "U.S. officials familiar with the psychological profile prepared by the CIA say Jean-Bertrand Aristide suffers emotional problems which require psychiatric treatment..."

The NAACP leadership has denounced such reports as "disinformation." Congressman Joe Kennedy complains about CIA rumor-mongering aimed at discrediting Aristide.

ARISTIDE THE HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSER CBS correspondent Martin glibly reported that "during nearly eight months as president," Aristide "paid little mind to democratic principles." In fact, during his presidency a total of 19 political killings were documented in Haiti -- with no evidence that any were approved or condoned by Aristide.

In contrast, according to a report by Americas Watch and other human rights groups, there were at least 76 political killings in Haiti during the 11 months before Aristide took office. And since Aristide's ouster, several thousand civilians have been killed by the military and its allies.

Although critics claim Aristide encouraged lynchings of Duvalier allies, independent monitors say that the Aristide government brought about a big improvement in Haiti's human rights situation. "It is ludicrous to compare that progress with the systematic mass murder committed since by the army," says Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. News reports grossly distort reality when they suggest that Aristide's approach to human rights is somehow comparable to the brutality of Haiti's past or present rulers.

ARISTIDE THE "ANTI-AMERICAN" Another common media theme came from CBS's David Martin: "Although he is living in the U.S. and counting on the Clinton administration to return him to power, Aristide has, at times, been virulently anti-American, once referring to the common enemy that is called the imperialist American."

As long as the history of U.S. support for Haitian dictators is kept out of the picture, such portraits of Aristide can make him seem irrationally hostile. The fact is that after becoming president, Aristide established good relations with the United States.

If Aristide is able to return to Haiti and resume his presidency without being killed, it will be a miracle. Almost as miraculous would be U.S. news coverage of Haiti containing forthright history.

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